Join Steve Simon for an in-depth discussion in this video Critiquing images that are all about light, part of Photo Critique of the Week.
- [Instructor] I see the light and I want to help you guys see the light too. Hi, I'm Steve Simon, passionate photographer, and welcome to a new edition of Photo Critique of the Week. This week we're going to look at some photos that are very kind of light conscious and of course, I probably don't have to tell you this, I know I don't, light is all important in photography. I mean, that's what it is. It's light and shadow recorded in a two-dimensional magical way. But when it comes to light, sometimes we're just not playing it smart.
Now the reality is that some photographs are just about the light, some photographs where the content is more important, I'm thinking more sort of street and journalistic documentary images, the light is a little bit less important. But when you can add good light to everything else that makes up a strong photograph, that easily gives you all five stars that you're looking for. So the thing about light is some pictures just aren't going to be anything without the light, and that's why it kind of makes sense, the whole golden hour idea, to go when the light is nicest.
Like a picture like this really without good lights, would really not work, yet it does. It's just kind of graphic, it's an architectural detail and the light is kind of beautiful on it. Same like this one in an alley in Japan, finding beauty amongst the spider web of lines and so on that you see there. Again, this picture, without this kind of nice lights would not work at all. There are all kinds of different light that work and, you know, the reality is, in nature and landscape, light is even more important than it is when you're traveling and recording the life around you, mainly because, you know if the content is there but the light isn't beautiful or interesting, then the image is just only going to go so far in terms of attracting attention.
It's really important. But it's not just the golden light. If you're lucky enough to have a foggy day, that can be really kind of beautiful, mystical, magical, all those things and I love to do that. Sometimes backlight can be very powerful, like at this amusement park in Vancouver, where there was sort of a frosty mist being emitted by the Frostee machine and people were just sort of beating the heat and coming and hanging around it, so again, in these kinds of situations, I want to make sure my exposure's right before I get too excited about capturing the image and once there, now I can concentrate on making a picture that kind of works and with this kind of thing it's hard to know exactly what it's going to look like in the end, so I tend to make sure I'm shooting RAW, of course, so that I can have some flexibility in processing, but also I'm going to shoot a lot because slight movements by the subjects, you can see that this guy here is just a little bit completely faded away, where here, and one of the reasons I chose this picture is that you can clearly see the definition of the people in there.
Light coming from the side is very powerful. It's probably one of my favorite kinds of light and sometimes when you're at a subject, you have the ability to walk around and sort of see how the light hits and choose your angle accordingly. Sometimes it's a little more fixed. But you can see how the light really illuminates this woman here and I think that helps to make the picture stronger. Soft light is beautiful light. Generally speaking, when it comes to people, because the harsh light can be very unflattering, which might work in certain instances, but often, more often than not it doesn't.
So if the light's not there, I'm going to have to find a solution, sometimes filling it in with some flash is the solution. It's a compromise but it works. You can see here it's a little bit of a harsher light, but you can also tell from the shadows that it's a little bit later in the day and generally speaking that's a good time to be shooting. It's a warmer light and you've got the long shadows casting, including myself here, but with this basketball game, it really kind of works and once the light is figured out and the exposure's there, you can concentrate on capturing kind of a peak, decisive moment, like this one.
Again, side light at this boxing club. Side light will illuminate the droplets of water in a way that front light won't, so if ever there's a possibility of side light with the subject, I would prefer that over a flatter frontal light or even a backlight. It's just a more kind of studio quality beauty when it comes to the photographs that you're making out there. But even when the light is a little bit harsher. I mean, we have some flexibility in post to be able to lighten the shadows in a way that looks good and the harsh light is not getting in the way.
You can see it tends to blow out in the highlight areas. It seems to be a more sort of overhead kind of light, but in this instance it works and sometimes it's just the reflections from a wall that will fill in the shadows a little bit and I think it's important when you are walking around that you're really kind of looking at the light and look and see how the light is affecting the people around you, even when your camera is not to your eye, just so that you can learn, and when you are in that photographic situation, you can make those quick decisions in terms of positioning to maximize the light for the particular subject that you're in.
I love shooting on rainy days, inclement weather. It's a different kind of light, it's a softer kind of light and I think it's a no-brainer. And if it's a rainy day, you're going to have consistent light all day as opposed to having to wait for the golden light on a bright, cloudless sunny day. You know this picture, really the only reason why I even considered taking this photo was the light. This guy was working on a showcase at a storefront in Lisbon and I just loved what the light was doing to his face.
I just thought this was beautiful and this is kind of that side lighting again and you can see what it does. It creates this beautiful light, highlight shadow contrast that really works and I think, you know, I'm not sure about this photo. I don't know what I'll do with it, necessarily, but this one, really, was about the light for me and that's what stopped me and that's, I think should stop all of us as photographers when we see great light. Getting into sort of the nighttime shooting. You know, low light is great, particularly when it's even and with our cameras now, we are in that golden age where our sensors are capable of doing much better than our eyes are, even, in terms of really recognizing and recording the scene or seeing the scene the way the camera sensor does, versus the way we see it, so learning to adjust your expectation when you're out there in dark light.
If it's even, chances are it's going to work. Now this light is a little bit different. You can see it's a little bit, again, side lighting that's coming on him, but I like the way it's illuminated his face. I was able to sort of keep his nose in this dark area, which kind of helps and I just thought it was a beautiful light. Often when I'm shooting at night, I tend to be in aperture priority, so I have to adjust my exposure. I'm shooting RAW, so I have a pillow to land on if I'm off a little bit, but I'm constantly exposure compensating when there's a lot of dark areas.
I'm lessening the exposure in backlit scenes, like we saw earlier. I'm tending to overexpose a little, just to get the right exposure and once there, and with experience of course, the more you do this, the more you recognize it and you just immediately exposure compensate and you're ready to capture the scene. Like this scene here, a very, very dark, literally the light from the phones are kind of illuminating the women here and there's enough ambient light to sort of illuminate the rest of the scene and chances are, I'm exposure compensating downward, because, and occasionally I will go to manual in a situation, but I've kind of got the flexibility and I've got the aperture priority slash exposure compensation down.
Whatever works for you, you just want to be able to react quickly. Here, you don't really have to react quickly, but it was really the light that attracted me and of course the color, but the color and the light are melded together. They're attached to each other, and it was just these little highlights in this curtain here that creates that air of mystery, but for me it was just a beautiful, the blue and the red really, really worked. And even something like this. I noticed the light because I had noticed someone who walked by and because the store was brightly lit, I basically waited for people to walk by and I was kind of lucky that the girl peeked in there because now she's lit, not just by the yellowish ambient light of the street, but the brighter white light from the store, so it made this image, for me, a little bit stronger and I like the color and the whole mood created by it.
So again, you're kind of waiting and recognizing light and hoping that things will kind of fall into place. And shooting at night, sometimes on a tripod, it really is, it creates a whole different mood, color and so on, and we have the flexibility at night to be able to play with the white balance and so on. In this instance, I did noticed again, here, similar to this picture, when the girl peeked in, you got the illumination of the bright light.
With this one here, got a little bit lucky again. This guy looked in that area. He was illuminated in blue, but also brightly lit by whatever it was that was coming out there and in this overall street scene, without this blue figure, the picture would not be as strong and it's interesting to me to notice that in a picture like this this relatively small area of real estate, I mean really small area of real estate, is key to making this picture a little bit stronger in my eyes.
And then of course the fire light. Fire light can be very, very tricky but I've learned to kind of figure out the exposure and usually it's probably a very fast shutter speed. Chances are your auto exposure is not going to quite do it, but maybe around fourth, depending on the camera, like 2,000th of a second at 5, 6, 400 ISO. Something like that is a starting point. If you're ever seeing this kind of a show, you have time.
I would suggest putting it on manual, starting at a starting point, checking back, seeing the exposure, making sure you don't blow it out, because you want to capture the detail in the fire and when you do that, you're going to get some strong photos. If you blow out the fire, it's just not going to work as well. I wouldn't worry about the person, because they're going to be illuminated by this, but to capture this kind of magic in the flame is really kind of a fun thing. So there you go, talking a little bit about light this week and how important it can be to your photographs.
Hopefully there's something in there that you can use and I hope too that you'll join me in the next episode of Photo Critique of the Week.
Check back each week to watch as more critiques are added, covering new work from many different genres. This series is designed to help you discover how to improve your work as a photographer. By heightening your awareness through analysis, you can harness the information to enhance your photographic eye.
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